The following is a paper I wrote for a class in 2008. It was among my first forays into Mormon studies, and my understanding of Mormonism has evolved slightly since then. Still, I hope the paper yields a few insights—at least enough to excuse its length!
Mormonism is a religion colored by complexities and contradictions. The prolific Mormon essayist Eugene England called the Mormon experience “essentially, as well as existentially, paradoxical.” LDS author Terryl Givens, more recently, posits a similar thesis in his book People of Paradox.
“By proving contraries, truth is made manifest,” said Joseph Smith, the founding prophet of the LDS Church. Informed by Smith’s statement, I will discuss Mormonism’s contraries in the hope of explaining the religion. My method in this paper will follow the seven Cs of religious studies: creed, code, cultus, community, culture, confines, and consciousness. In each of these seven characteristics exist tensions that help define Mormonism.
One of the most important aspects of a religion is its creed—its set of core beliefs. The Mormon “creed,” as it were, can be found in the Articles of Faith. Joseph Smith penned a letter to the inquiring John Wentworth, editor of the Chicago Democrat, articulating 13 fundamental doctrines of Mormonism. The letter was later canonized as the Articles of Faith.
The primary articles affirm the church’s belief in: God, Christ, and the Holy Ghost; free moral agency and accountability for one’s actions; the salvation of man through the Atonement and “by obedience to the laws and ordinances [faith, repentance, baptism by immersion, and the laying on of hands] of the Gospel”; the Bible “as far as it is translated correctly” and the Book of Mormon as scripture; continuing revelation; and the Restoration of the Primitive Church.